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Loving Couples begins with a bird’s eye view–black and white tiles, over which patients at a maternity clinic pass on their way to appointments with their doctors. Likewise, we see the women of Loving Couples as from a great distance, as they view their lives from a similar distance. These three mothers are each coming from tragic circumstances and stand to enter similarly tragic circumstances as they give birth to their babies. They reflect on what led them to where they are now, as the film interweaves their narratives into a critique of motherhood, womanhood, and patriarchy.
In all aspects the cinematography of Loving Couples is exemplary, but the shots that create a sense of sweeping perspective are the most successful of all. A group’s conversations are filmed with the camera spinning around to catch everyone’s facial expressions throughout, and a dinner party uses a mirror on the table to show the secret feelings of the guests in a long shot moving down the whole table. And as mentioned before, the hospital’s extreme wides create a sense not just that we are viewing these women from afar, but also that they are engulfed by a medical institution that sees them as insignificant. In this way, both the detached tone of the film and the constraints of Swedish society at that time are communciated at once through visuals.
Blocking and mise-en-scene also create distance in Loving Couples through the defamilarization of everyday rituals. When Angela, a woman pregnant by an older man who seduced her, remembers her boarding school days, the schoolgirls’ rhymes and accompanying dances seem odd viewed from a middle distance rather than a closer view. A young boy teasing one of the women in her own childhood becomes a more taunting and disturbing presence when seen through a window without any noise. The interactions between people in this film can often take on an alien tone due to this framing.
So what is Loving Couples trying to do with all these distancing creative choices? The result is to make people step back and take a look at the society they may not think to critique very often. Defamiliarization of the everyday and rapid shifting in perspective are both keys that unlock people’s ability to think more critically about concepts that they might not even consciously consider. Patriarchy, of course, is one of these. Another is motherhood, a concept that is central to the character arcs depicted in Loving Couples and one that seems especially up for critique in this film.
For one thing, the reaction of each of these women to their romantic partners, their womanhood, and finally their babies is stunningly different, a subversive choice in itself. Opening up the possibility that there can be many perspectives on womanhood and motherhood is already a feminist statement. It asserts that there is no one way to be a woman or a mother, and challenges the idea that society should enforce its will on women. Especially since many of the present-day scenes take place in a hospital, that inherently involves a critique of how doctors force their opinions on the women they treat–particularly when it comes to their reproductive health.
One example of doctors controlling the women they treat comes in Angela’s story–Angela is brought to the hospital by a relative who then speaks to the doctor for her, out in the hall where she cannot hear. As far as we can see Angela doesn’t get to speak to a doctor the way a patient should be able to. She’s treated like a child who happens to be having another child, and the baby is treated like it’s more important than Angela’s wishes. These disturbing scenes speak for themselves on the issue of abortion and the right to choose.
Another point this film makes across the board is the right of children to be treated with care by the adults in their lives. While this is generally not considered controversial, the behavior of many parents in actuality belies the idea that society agrees with this point. These young women were all treated badly by their parents and authority figures in ways that led them to either act out or self-destruct in the ways they are later shown doing. The reason people get into bad situations as adults is that as children they were trained to expect that they would always be in bad situations. The way the children’s perspectives are honored and the adults’ perspectives are defamiliarized allows the film to speak for the young women at every point in their lives.
Loving Couples draws one in with its mesmerizing story structure and innovative cinematography, and it keeps one in with the deep and sensitive themes it brings to the table. The issues of motherhood, the rights of children, and reproductive rights are all still relevant today, making Loving Couples just as important a movie now as it was in 1964.
Top Photo: Angela ponders her life.
Middle Photo: One of the couples waits to see a doctor.
Bottom Photo: Angela in a flashback.
Photo Credit: Mai Zetterling.